Grassroots pushes Senate Democrats to talk up universal background checks bill passed by House

Frank Guttenberg has continued his advocacy of gun law reform since his 14-year-old daughter Jaime was murdered in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre in February 2018. He’s one of those pushing Democratic senators to champion universal background checks.

In poll after poll, for more than a decade, Americans have overwhelmingly supported requiring universal background checks on all purchases of firearms. At the beginning of this month, the House of Representatives passed a bill to require background checks of all would-be gun buyers. Eleven states already require a background check for virtually all sales, gifts, or other transfers of guns. But U.S. law only requires a background check when someone seeks to buy a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer. No background checks are required for private sales. Enacted into law, the House bill—H.R. 8—would change that. 

The trouble is, while the bill passed the House 240-190, with eight Republicans joining the all but two Democrats who voted for it, the Senate is a different story. If all 47 Democrats and the two Democrat-caucusing independents were to stand firm, they would still need 13 Republicans to join them for the bill to pass there, since it needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

In 2013, the last time a universal background check law came up in the Senate—in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre—it garnered only 54 of the needed votes, with four Republicans joining 50 Democrats in support. Four Democrats joined the opposition, but they’ve all been replaced by more conservative Republicans. Only two of the dissenting Republicans—Patrick Toomey of Pennysylvania and Susan Collins of Maine—are still in the Senate.

The math clearly doesn’t look very good.

Too few Senate Democrats have displayed any enthusiasm for getting a vote on the background checks bill. Moreover, there is that roadblock whose initials are Mitch McConnell. And, of course, there is always the possibility, the likelihood, that Donald Trump would veto the bill if it somehow did clear the Senate, although he has sporadically and unpredictably wavered hot and cold on some gun-related reforms.

Whatever the hurdles to legislation, the youthful grassroots activism that has arisen in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, massacre of high schoolers and staff has brought gun reform back into discussion. Young people aren’t the only activists at work on senators. Some 200 survivors of shooting victims, informally led by Frank Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was murdered in the Parkland shooting, have written a letter to Democratic senators calling them out for not championing universal background checks and urging them to “fight for us” on gun-law reform.

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